S.M.A.R.T. goals

  • Goals are objectives, and aspirations that people work to obtain (Wade, 2009).
  • They can be motivational and tend to provide people with direction in life (Wade, 2009).
  • Goals are actively being sought after by people so that change can occur within their current lifestyle (Wade, 2009).
  • Has been shown to improve motivation and increase desire for change. (Wade, 2009).
  • Helps to ensure that actions taken by people serves to benefit their wellbeing. (Wade, 2009).
  • By creating goals people are given more things to work towards
  • goals that are designed to help people achieve a desired outcome with greater efficiency.


  • The S.M.A.R.T. Goal acronym stands for:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Realistic
    • Time-Bound goals


  • Sometimes the acronym is written as S.M.A.R.T.E.R. where the E and the R in the acronym tend to stand for Evaluated and Reviewed.
    • These additions help curate the goal
    • Ensure that it is still applicable and relevant to the desired outcome


  • Goals that are specific provide us with a sense of direction and give us something to work towards.
  • When goals are not specific it becomes more difficult to provide direction for ourselves which can cause confusion and frustration.


For example, consider these two goals:

    • I want to be able to read a book (Vague)
    • I want to be able to read a novel for an hour a day without the need for breaks (specific)
  • Simply put, measurability is when something can be tracked, monitored, or quantified.


  • There are different ways to track and monitor progress, especially in relation to goal setting.


    • These can include, but are not limited to:
      • amount of time spent doing the activity
      • how much of the activity was completed during an attempt
      • amount of time spent completing the goal overall
      • Etc.


For example:

  • I want to be able to read a novel for an hour a day without breaks.
  • Measurability for this goal could include:
    • number of pages read
    • time spent reading
    • number of days that you read for
    • etc.


  • These measures help the individual track their progress towards their overarching goal and subsequently can improve motivation, determination, and desire towards the completion of this goal (Wade, 2009).
  • Goals that people create must be achievable through the resources, skills, and powers that the person currently has or can gain access too. (Morrison, 2016).


  • This is not to say that the goals being created must be easy or quickly attainable; challenging goals are good and encouraged as they give us something to work towards and help maintain our motivation (Wade, 2009).


  • However, this does mean that goals need to be practical, honest, and possible (Morrison, 2016).


For example:

If my goal is again to read a novel for an hour a day without the need for breaks then I need to have access to books to read, and the ability to read books. Without the ability to do either of these things my goal is not attainable or realistic.

  • Realism is what separates goals from aspirations.


  • When something is realistic, it is within the bounds of your capabilities and is something that you have faith in achieving (Morrison, 2016).


  • Realistic goals can be short-term or long-term, so long as you believe it is possible to achieve using the resources, and skills present in your life.


  • It is important to be honest and truthful with oneself when setting realistic goals as doing this will help to ensure that the objective being worked on is worthwhile and relevant.
  • Time-Bound goals simply require that an individual give themselves an honest and set time frame in which they endeavour to complete the goal.


  • Creating a due date helps to keep oneself accountable for the completion of this goal.


For example, a time-bound goal would be:

To read a novel for an hour a day without the need for breaks and I will complete this goal in 3 months from my starting date.

  • Like any tool, it needs to be applied in the context of some well-thought-out plan.


  • If we take a step back to a more fundamental level – a level where one highlights one’s values – it is possible that the S.M.A.R.T. Goals to which we have committed are serving someone else’s ideals (e.g., your mother’s, society’s, etc.).


  • We have to get in touch with our own values if we want S.M.A.R.T. Goals to serve our true ambitions.


  • Some things, like happiness, are hard to define and achieve using S.M.A.R.T. Goals.


  • It is our hope that attainment of goals will bring happiness, but this calculation is really an assumption, and the achievement of S.M.A.R.T. Goals may not bring happiness.


The popular psychologist Viktor E. Frankl from his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning” writes:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

If goals are too specific, it may create a certain amount of inflexibility.


An Example

We had a patient once who wanted to get a job, and she had been relying on searching through Indeed ads, but had lost her motivation for the same.

  • They say hindsight is 20/20…so by having the patient use techniques of visualization, she was able to envision the life that contained the emergence of her best hopes, and come up with a solution that no therapist or physician would have thought to recommend:
    • She came up with the idea of promoting her service on Facebook to mom groups looking for learning pods for their kids; and like that she created her own job.


  • What could have been the effects of making her goal to spend double the time on searching through Indeed ads? Or going through double the number of ads?
    • She may have missed out on opportunities like the one she seized because she overly focused her attention
    • It may have been less fun
    • She may have been more frustrated if things didn’t work out
    • She may have been more self-critical if she didn’t keep up the quota, or timeline, even if she got really close.


Another Example

Another patient had the very specific goal of “making sure all the dishes were washed”

  • What difference would this make? Which value does it serve? Why is it so important?


  • It turns out this patient’s partner gets anxious around messy dishes. And this causes the partner to be more distant from their child, and less present in the household. What this patient actually wanted was a more cohesive family life.


  • If a better opportunity to achieve a better cohesive family life was passed up so that the patient could keep this rigid goal of finishing all the dishes, it may be counterproductive.



If goals don’t have a clear finish line (too vague), it may provide no direction.


Another Example

We once had a patient who drafted a goal of “not wasting time”.

  • Can you see the problem with this goal?


  • Which values is it serving?
    • It is good to be explicit about the main value we are serving with our goals
    • Some find it helpful to use a Visualization Board


  • How will you know if you cross the finish line of that goal?
    • Time efficiency is a relative thing: what is efficient for one person may be inefficient, or a waste of life energy for another.

At TCC, we offer support in identifying and strategizing how to achieve goals using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) methods. CBT is one of  the most evidenced-based psychological methods in helping people recover from medical illness.

Morrison, M. (February 05, 2016). Write SMART Objectives & Goals – Criteria. RapidBI https://rapidbi.com/writesmartobjectives/

Wade, D. T. (2009). Goal setting in rehabilitation: An overview of what, why and how. Clinical Rehabilitation, 23(4), 291-295. DOI:10.1177/0269215509103551

Last Updated: February 09, 2021